Sunday, 28 August 2016

Warsaw, from guests’ perspective

Skipped last week’s piece of blogging to look after my family (aunt, cousin and his wife) from Jelenia Góra who came for a few days to Warsaw. Heedless of political correctness, I confess living under one (especially one’s own) roof with a few people you meet once in two or three years is a nuisance. Yet, we all endured it without major clashes and their visit egged me on sightseeing trips through Warsaw and around I would not take in such number without third-party incentive.

They arrived on Saturday (over a week ago) before noon by Pendolino. For no apparent reason they chose to go by train, though door-to-door journey is shorter and less costly (for an equivalent of three adult ticket from Jelenia Góra to Warsaw they could buy petrol to come to Warsaw and drive back home.

On Saturday, after unpacking and lunch we set off to Prażmów where several of our common ancestors are buried. We visited their graves, burnt candles and I took the opportunity to discover areas of cemetery I had never ventured into, despite dropping in on there twice or three times a year. To the right, one of such places, a plaque commemorating local insurgents who fought in January Uprising.

On Sunday morning the relatives refused to sit back on a terrace and relax, so I had to take them for a longer stroll to Piaseczno. We inspected the reconstruction of ul. Wojska Polskiego. The scope of works is anything but overwhelming. The street will not be widened, but new asphalt will be laid, new pavements and parking spots built, two new pedestrian crossings marked out.

The major gain for local residents will be the newly built intersection with ul. Sikorskiego, which used to be a cul-de-sac since 2000. The new link might spare local car-ridden residents around one kilometre of detour. Note the florist’s and delicatessen grocery on the left side of my snap. The two facilities have not changed by a bit since 20 years (I lived a stone’s throw to this spot until 2005), resisting competition from posh flower shops and Lidl and Kaufland shops opened nearby in early 2000s.

On Sunday afternoon we paid a visit to Warsaw Uprising Museum. This was my second trip to that establishment this year, so I served as a guide. The museum, as each public one is proscribed to open its doors free of charge once week. Here the day when visitors do not need to buy tickets is Sunday, hence a long queue to the entrance. The wait, fortunately, did not take long and after some 20 minutes we crossed the door of the building. After an hour and a half, as we were leaving, rain was pouring down heavily. Bang went plans of ambling around the new residential and commercial developments of Wola district.

On Monday and Tuesday I escaped to work (refused to take the whole week off and put my patience to such test, imagine my grin when I was driving off bound to be away from home for eleven hours) so my mother took care of the guests, showing them nooks and crannies linked to our family’s history in Piaseczno and on Tuesday they went to Warsaw to Królikarnia Park, Łazienki Park and to Palace of Culture’s observation deck.

On Wednesday morning we headed for Polish Jews’ Museum. The probably most magnificent museum in Warsaw was opened over three years ago, on 70th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising outbreak. The exhibition strikes with modernity and gives visitors the chance not just to familiarise with the history of Jews on the territory of Poland (not sparing the shameful pieces of it), but also acquaints them with Jews’ culture and religion.

Walking quite carefully through the exhibition took us more than two hours and if I can hint those interested in visiting the museum (definitely worthwhile), go through the first part of the exhibition, until the end of eighteenth century faster and than slow down, since as you move towards the present, the story gets more appealing.

Having left the museum, we strolled around the very centre of the capital to let the relatives see the recently built skyscrapers (in Warsaw’s terms building having more than 20 storeys) – Q22, Warsaw Spire and Cosmopolitan.

After the lunch the family were tired enough to stay in, while I took a bike for a short trip around the neighbour- hood. In Nowa Iwiczna, next to the station, pavement south of ul. Krasickiego was under construction. Dwellers of roadside houses were overseeing workers to ensure driveways to their properties were assembled properly (i.e. without curbs and not too slippery).

Little was going on close the station in Nowa Iwiczna. The level crossing has been opened, target tracks have been laid therein, yet the old island platform remained nearly intact and the place seemed to be lagging behind in terms of work progress, compared to other sections of W-wa Okęcie – Piaseczno modernised section.

Further north, in Jeziorki, tarmac has been ripped off ul. Karczunkow- ska and literally nothing was going on. As I turned up there, it was just before 4 p.m. so I expected to observe construction crews bustling about. Instead, the only humans at the scene were two men next to gatekeeper’s hut, staring at the desolated place. Besides, not a living soul in sight. Closure of the level crossing is an inconvenience for locals therefore swift pace of works should be ensured to minimise it.

In Dawidy, rail-wise, same progress of works as one station south. However here the level crossing has been revamped, yet gates have not been put up. Passengers can use one new platform next to newly-laid track used currently by trains running in both directions. The northbound track has been ripped and no signs of further course of works could be witnessed.

Cycling home along ul. Baletowa I spotted a ZTM bus, operating a newly launched 737 service. Inhabitants of this part of Zielony Ursynów had been waiting for a bus connection to town for 20 years and had greeted the first bus a few days earlier with ribbon-cutting, bread and salt. Must ul. Karczunkowska have been closed to bring those people closer to civilisation and relieve them from dependence on cars and rarely running trains which do not reach Ursynów or Mokotów?

On Thursday morning we set off to take a walk through Krakowskie Przedmieście. My mother and aunt visited interiors of all churches by the street, then we strolled around Plac Zamkowy. End of August is still a height of holiday season, so majority of people around (just like in Polin Museum) were foreigners.

Then guests took us to a café in Old Town Square to enjoy “home-made” ice-cream. While waiting for my portion, I snapped a bird, plucking and pecking flower petals. Then, I accidentally caught the fellow flying away, shooed by a waiter.

While heading towards the castle to turn right in the direction of the Unkown Soldier’s Tomb and Ogród Saski, I took a picture of the National Stadium. The sport arena looks splendid, unlike my photo which rather resembles an advertisement of Skoda Fabia (I somehow failed to notice the car, whose driver probably did not give a damn about traffic restrictions).

On Thursday afternoon we took the last trip to Konstancin Jeziorna. The place, which I used to pop in on often as a child, has undergone a huge change since I last visited the sanatoria park in spring 2013 (documented visit in 2011). The most dilapidated area near Jeziorka river has been marvellously revitalised, since three years ago where the pavement lies you could see a narrow trampled path, and wild shrubs were overgrowing it on both sides. The old sanatoria building was demolished to give way to a spa facility.

Hugonówka café, opened in 2014, is now the main cultural house in Konstancin, serving both as eatery and as scene of theatre and open-air cinema. Compared to how badly it looked in 2013, the stride made here brings out joy. Konstancin now is one of excellent weekend trip destinations for Varsovians!

On Friday early morning another Pendolino took my cousin and his wife home, while my aunt took a bus to Legionowo to visit her another cousin. The remaining household members could finally have a sigh of relief and after a solid cleaning up could enjoy a slightly longer weekend. Today around noon I set off to the airport to pick up my acquaintance from Germany who played host to me and my friend during holidays in 2005. I promised her to drive her to Wólka cemetery to visit her daughter’s grave, then we are about to eat out and her another daughter should take her home.

The weather these days is truly summer-like, yet +30C heat this time is absolutely tolerable for me. Cool nights and brisk mornings help air out interiors which give shelter from the heat in the afternoons, while the very air is dry and breeze takes the edge off heat. Long-term forecasts predict such weather is to continue until the end of first decade of September and may they prove accurate!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

But a change of heart comes slow…

Taking note of my unchanged approach to Warsaw Uprising last week has motivated me to rediscover my pieces of writing from the early years of blogging. I have run PES for over seven years; despite several crises I have soldiered on, yet the period of most intense and inspiration-driven writing lasted for somewhat more than a year. Later on, since the summer of 2010 when I took up a full-time job, posts began to appear once a week and were far less often written on the spur of the moment. Over the first year of blogging I blurted out thoughts I most needed to share with the world, then I moved on and freshness went by… Now I genuinely miss those days when youngster’s zeal was filling me with energy and inspiration do the job I do not feel up to today.

The posts I’m revisiting today were written when I was 21 or 22 (vs. 28 today). One would claim I should have grown mature; should have undergone a process which involves reshaping one’s views on several matters. When I read my very first posts (from the first three or four months of blogging) I find them childish and clumsily written. After this formative period, my style seemed to have been brushed up on.

Time to find out how many times I have changed my mind. As I set off to take this journey, I safely bet my opinions have not evolved much.

The concept of shelving the public debt still sounds like a daydream. Deep down I agree with myself, yet the more rational parts of me reminds me the government to some extent functions like an enterprise for which there is an optimum level of debt below which borrowing is a cost-effective form of financing.

In 2009 media coverage was my once source of information on pathologies in retail banking in Poland. In 2016 it looks not more different. Today I could write more about the dark side of corporate banking, yet even though I am striving to withhold my identity I resist the temptation.

Five years after graduation, I hear from youngsters I know my university continues to be on decline. In international rankings SGH has been overtaken some time ago by Kozminski Academy, marking an imminent change in the higher education system in Poland where public universities have been superior to private poor and profit-oriented ones.

Returning to 2009 I can boast about being a critic of the bygone shape of pension system in Poland before Donald Tusk’s government decided to dismantle it. With hindsight, as the private-run pension fund business has been effectively pared down, I believe every word I wrote was justified and the two-stage (2011 and 2013/2014) crackdown on the pension funds was a move in the right direction.

My (modest) proposal of a flat-rate tax with a high allowance still sound appealing, yet I would slightly modify it by introducing a higher tax rate and a higher allowance and would add child allowances to it.

The purpose of that post was actually to mock at the late president Lech Kaczyński. In November 2009 no one thought in less than five months Mr Kaczyński would tragically die. Everyone thought his term would draw to a close in a year and he would be replaced by a candidate from PO entourage. Today when I observe conduct of Mr Duda I appreciate Lech Kaczyński was not that bad, particularly in comparison to the current “head of state”.

After the decease of general Jaruzelski in 2014 discussions on legitimacy and backdrop of declaring martial law in Poland in 1981 have somewhat faded. Still I argue the state of affairs in Poland was complicated at that time and I believe we will probably forever suffer from lack facts and documents helping historians fairly assess that decision.

My essay on dire effects of loose monetary policy was written after a year or so of pursuit of such policies by major central banks. From today’s perspective I still conceptually agree with my reasoning and could write the same again, yet I need to bear in mind ultra-loose monetary policies have been run for nearly eight years and unconventional tools have also been harnessed to keep economies afloat. Oddly enough, evils listed in paragraph (1) to (4) at the bottom of the post have not materialised or have materialised only to a marginal extent which should prompt me to rethink my approach.

In early 2010 I challenged the widespread theory the financial meltdown had been caused by greed, pointing out its major cause had been lack of fear. Today the theory still sounds alluring while I need to add another, definitely not mould-breaking, note. Economic actors will do whatever they are not prohibited from to pursue their goals. Therefore regulations and their proper enforcement are vital to prevent financial crises.

My critical look at various investment theories could today be enhanced by the experience of recent years. Theory of macroeconomics has been reshaped by unprecedented phenomena witnessed in post-crisis years (negative interest years, ultra-loose monetary policies fuelling no substantial asset bubbles, scrapping the paradigm of risk-free securities, etc.)

While my financial well-being has incomparably improved since 2010 I still think interns should be remunerated for their work. My approach is shared by an increasing number of employers who erased unpaid internships from their job openings as part of incorporating CSR agendas.

The take on Poland between 1945 and 1989 appears well-balanced. I find assertions that one occupier was swapped for another in 1945 out of place. Keeping in mind Poland was dependent on Soviet Union, its political system was far from democracy and its economic order was ineffective, between 1945 and 1989 warfare was generally not conducted on the territory on Poland, buildings and factories were erected rather than torn down, an ordinary man, as long as they kept their mouth shut, had no reason to be afraid of their life and the number of victims of 44 years of oppressive system was lower than of 6 years of Nazi occupation.

In July 2010 I had a heated post-Smolensk argument with Toyah and his fellows being on the other side of the political divide line. Today we stand where we stood then, while the end-justifies-the-means remains a motto of PiS and their advocates. I have to also boast here about my impeccable anti-PiS credentials. Never, ever, since I have been seriously interested in politics, i.e. since early 2005, have I ever been enchanted by PiS. In 2005, when PO was bound to win the parliamentary election by a tiny two of three percentage points and create coalition with PiS, I was not fond of vision of this right-wing coalition taking charge of Poland. I became the PO electorate after the party put itself in opposition to PiS and its social agenda drifted left.

The picture of today’s career-minded youngsters painted in this post is a piece of utter rubbish, I confess. Most young people I know strike work-life balance well and have no problems with relationships with people although I still feel sorry so few Michał’s friends turned up at his wedding. Having more important things to do than celebrating important moments in friends’ lives with them is still a plague with my peers.

In this post I foresaw the history will be rewritten sooner or later. Just recall that sentence: On Tuesday “Gazeta Polska” published an interview with Jarosław Kaczyński in which he envisages Lech Wałęsa will soon be discredited and after his name is dragged through the mud Lech Kaczyński will become a symbol of Solidarity. This is taking place, proving how determined politician Jarosław Kaczyński is.

Today, even more than then, I find current affairs in my life more important than politics. There are moments I feel sick, yet I am growing indifferent. On Thursday I returned frazzled from a two-day business trip and did not even feel like learning what the sentence of the Constitutional Tribunal on the new law governing the institution is (content was predictable) and what implications of it would be.

Today I no longer would write rants on linguistic competencies. Despite using English every day at work and making use of all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening), my use of English has been narrowed down to professional topics. I wonder when my fluency in English was at its height, but I am nearly confident that moment is behind me. Keeping up excellent command of non-native language if you do not live in the country where that language is widely used is a challenge indeed.

Next post in two weeks at best, in three weeks at worst. My family from Jelenia Góra are visiting the capital so I will be looking after them next weekend, while after they go home I will need to take care of another acquaintance coming over to Warsaw. Take care!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Sick of politics

One down, four to go. Counting down days until the end of his term and wishing him good health.

One of keystone vows of Mr Duda as a candidate was to convert toxic foreign currency mortgage loans to PLN at the rate at which they had been taken out. As the problem is quite intricate, it has been tackled by a dedicated task force several times. The first proposal of loan conversion into PLN at “fair rate” was unveiled in January 2016, another “draft” of set of measures to ease CHF-mortgage-ridden debtors was laid out in June 2016. Last week the president’s experts finally presented the draft law whose core element is the obligation for banks to refund the borrowers overcharged spreads…

YES WE CAN’T, one would love to paraphrase Barack Obama’s campaign slogan. After several promises to bail out borrowers (majority of whom are either well-off and their only problem is that their properties cannot be sold, or are suckers who wanted to outwit their fellows indebted in the domestic currency) the final scheme has been grossly whittled down in comparison to what had been pledged. Yet, as Mr Dera sincerely confessed, perception of a candidate differs from perception of an incumbent president.

Thanks to the new scheme hapless debtors will see principals of their loans decline by the amount of spreads overcharged at disbursement and at each instalment payment until August 2011, when anti-spread law came into force. Essentially, if you look at this detail, president Duda’s task force’s proposal is just the extension to the banking law amendment enacted by PO-PSL government (and initiated by former president Komorowski in the wake of soaring CHF in mid-2011) since it applies to payments between banks and borrowers made between January 2000 and August 2011.

So far no one has mentioned the risk of new law’s illegality. It needs to be noted though banks had charged FX-debtors excessive spreads, or simply had ripped them off, they had done it within the letter of law (there had been no limits on spreads) which in principle is not retroactive. Yet with constitutional tribunal brought to the heel, this should no longer be a concern.

Even if the total cost for banks in Poland reaches PLN 10 billion, the burden will be bearable and will not shake stability of the financial system. “Ensnared” borrowers are let down by Mr Duda’s scheme, while the refund of overpaid spreads will in fact constitute a transfer of wealth from banks’ stakeholders (not only shareholders but also clients) to a relatively wealthy group of PO and Nowoczesna’s electorate who will have their mortgage loans prepaid (or if they have paid off their debt, they will receive cash).

The 72nd anniversary of Warsaw Uprising outbreak was marked by a dispute to who the homage should be paid at W-hour. A handful of insurgent were called to minister Macierewicz’s office and forced to agree to a compromise that the full list of 96 fatalities of Smolensk air crash would not be read out, instead names of five persons involved in nurturing the remembrance of the Uprising would be read out.

The presence of Smolensk tribute during each and every event assisted by the army not only contributes to denigrating remembrance of 96 Tu-154 passengers who died in the tragic transport accident, but also is the top point on the agenda of rewriting the history.

Besides, the PiS-inspired industry of hatred is running at full steam. The two victims are 99-year-old general Scibor-Rylski accused of collaboration with communist secret services in post-war years and Zbigniew Galperyn. Beyond all doubt general Scibor-Rylski did co-operate in these bleak times, however by all accounts the collaboration was tactical and did not harm anyone. The campaign against Mr Galperyn kicked off just recently, after he criticised combining commemorations of Warsaw Uprising and Smolensk air crash and is backed by no evidence, a similar article could be written about anyone doing anything.

Actually it does not matter whether they collaborated with communist regime before 1989. Many today’s zealous supporters (Jerzy Zelnik) and politicians (Stanisław Piotrowicz) of PiS did it and their past does not disqualify them out of public discourse. What only matters is one’s attitude towards PiS today. The moment you firmly oppose against what knights of dobra zmiana pursue is the moment before the mud-slinging machine is set in motion.

Seven years after this pledge, my approach to the Warsaw Uprising has not changed. I still pay homage to inhabitants of Warsaw who valiantly fought against the Nazi occupier and to civilians who either lost their lives in the Uprising or endured probably the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the history of Poland. I am sick when I see people who show off how they pay tribute to the insurgents, use the W-hour anniversary as an opportunity for lansik or when public figures attempt to capitalise on the anniversary. Commemorate, but not celebrate. Stop for a minute, in silence, with your head down and be thankful you live a in free, peaceful country.

Meanwhile, first serious cracks can be seen among affiliates of the ruling party who have relished on power. Backdrop of the decision to oust Mr Kurski from the public TV broadcaster’s CEO seat and then to defer his departure by nearly three months laid bare clashes between coteries. Unlike some of you may think, supporters of PiS are not a uniform group. Gazeta Polska entourage is not fond of wSieci / wPolityce and the other way round. The two entourages have also little in common with priest Rydzyk’s empire, not as influential as in 2005-2007. Just read Toyah’s blog to learn more. He often gripes about Rafał Ziemkiewicz, Tomasz Terlikowski and moans how other accolades of PiS hinder the good cause.

Quarrels between coteries do not herald break-up of the wide front of PiS supporters, yet the more perceptible they are, the more they remind Poles PiS politicians are no different than their predecessors, they go back on promises and become corrupt by power